Dotcom fall mutes Internet show’s bells and whistles

The Washington Post

NEW YORK _Lines were shorter than usual at the Internet World trade show here this week, a sign perhaps that the gee-whiz appeal of novel dotcoms is fading along with their valuations on Wall Street. In place of the truly novel ideas debuting in years past were hundreds of modestly innovative ideas about how the Internet might be improved.

There was the usual silly notion — a company called DigiScents Inc. drew guffaws with its device that synthesizes smells, allowing Web sites to transmit digitized smells to consumers who buy an odor cartridge — but the exhibit floor mostly showcased companies trying to make the Internet more convenient, lively or powerful. Multimedia software that adds video and audio to Web sites in new ways was one trend, along with all sorts of tools to let Web sites communicate more directly and precisely with customers.

The eCopy machine was one of simplest new ideas on display aimed at making the Internet more convenient. Plugging its eCopier touch screen into a Canon copier allows anyone to push a few buttons and copy any document directly to the Internet. United Parcel Service of America Inc. recently partnered with so people will be able to touch the "scan to UPS" button on the tiny screen and transmit the document in an encrypted and digitally certified format to any e-mail address they type in. The cost ranges from $1 to $2.50 per document.

More wireless devices appeared on the exhibit floor than in years past, and the biggest crowd turned out to watch the digital fashion show. High-fashion models strutted down a runway carrying brightly colored cellular phones and MP3 players, while wearing shiny silver clothes with embedded computer circuits.

Hundreds of Internet executives spoke about the future of their beleaguered industry. More than a few bemoaned the faddishness of Wall Street investors, who seek the latest hot sector.

"Wall Street is stupid" about Internet investing, proclaimed Ken Seiff, founder and chief executive of online discount clothing retailer "Don’t pay attention to Wall Street."

Seiff contended that anyone who followed the so-called hot investing trends — which have lurched in the past 18 months from consumer retailing to business-to-business e-commerce and on to optical networking — would lose a fortune as Wall Street abruptly changed its mind about each sector. chief executive Benjamin Narasin agreed that industry analysts too often seize on the latest buzzword — mobile commerce is already a "dead" investing idea, he said, replaced by optical networking companies. But Narasin contended that plenty of old-line businesses such as the Gap Inc. and Lands’ End Inc. are doing well by extending their existing businesses to the Internet, helping blur the lines between the old and new economies.

In a sign of how the Internet is evolving, with many original Web sites dying but passing their digital code along to future generations, Narasin’s company bought the defunct high-fashion retailer earlier this year. Narasin said he would relaunch the Web site on Monday with a totally new identity. "We are going to make it a portal, with content about fashion, rather than sell clothes directly on the site," he said.

Voice technology was one of the bigger themes at the show. America Online Inc. launched AOL Phone service, allowing AOL subscribers to call 800-AOL-1234 and hear news headlines or their e-mail read aloud by a text-to-speech synthesizer.

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